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Ilana Danneman
BY Ilana Danneman

How to Create a Break Box to Stimulate your Child with Special Needs

Sometimes my kids get the blues. Sometimes I get the blues. One of my favorite storybooks about defeating the blues is the Happiness Box. It’s a story about a boy who never seems to be happy until one day his parents give him a huge empty refrigerator box that they call the Happiness Box. The only rule is that he is to have only happy thoughts when he’s inside the box.

Well, this all works out great until one day he has to go to camp and cannot take his oversized box with him. He finally realizes his happiness box is simply inside his own head! I have often thought about this story and wished we could all realize that not only is our Happiness Box inside each of our heads, but also in actuality, so is our BREAK Box.

What’s a BREAK box?

A BREAK box is a box choc full of great fidgets, heavy work tools, calming items and much more to awaken, integrate and stimulate the senses. It can be used as a preventative means toward warding off meltdowns or aggression. It can also be used during breaks to re-energize and alert children. Although it is used widely in the classroom, it can also be used in a home, clinic, and waiting room or just about anywhere you find people!

Even the teacher can use a BREAK box in a center with several children at once, so that after the break everyone is back on task. In an ideal world, we all know that our BREAK boxes are really in our heads, but for most of us reaching down into a REAL box filed with goodies is to our senses like a snack is to our stomachs. You can purchase a Break Box or you can select items to fit into one that you personalize.

What to Put in the Break Box

A good BREAK box should have:

  • Tools for heavy work (items for stretching and moving)
  • Fine motor (manipulatives for use by the hands)
  • Sensory items (items with different textures and feelings) and weighted items (items that are heavy to alert the nervous system).

You can station your box in a special place or pack it up and take it on the road! Here are just a few tips to acquiring and using a BREAK box to its maximum benefit.

1. Questions to ask when creating your Break Box

Who are your children? Where are you planning to use your BREAK box? Classroom? Clinic? Playroom? What are the needs of those children? Do they need calming activities? Fine motor tools or heavy work?

2. Goals

What would you like to accomplish with the BREAK box? Is it for therapeutic use? Or for play exploration?

3. Rules

Have you explained to your kids the purpose of the BREAK box? Do they know how many children can be at the box at once? Do you want more than one child at the box at any given time? Can they go up to the box as needed? Or do they need to ask permission? What about clean up and putting the box away?

4. Check up

Have you looked in your BREAK box lately? Are there items missing or used that need to be replaced? Are the items clean? Would you like to substitute some items for different ones to re-interest your children?

5. Combine with lessons

Have you thought combining the items with some of your lesson plans or home study? Maybe you’re doing a science lesson on the body? Or maybe a lesson on sorting? Using the items in your BREAK box as manipulatives and visual tools can reinforce what you are trying to teach

6. Educate your children

Are your kids aware of the affect they receive when they spend time using the items from your BREAK box? Take a moment and discuss it with them. Perhaps have them chart their feelings before and after use?

7. Size

A BREAK box should be small enough to be portable by your children, yet large enough to hold quite a few items.

8. Educate schools

Does your school use BREAK boxes in the classrooms? Maybe schedule a meeting with your administration to explain the wonderful benefits (attention, focus, calm, concentration, joy) that can come from having sensory tools in the classroom.

Ilana Danneman

Written on June 3, 2014 by:

Ilana Danneman is a pediatric physical therapist with over 25 years experience in the special needs field developing 100's of products, blogging, providing customer education, and catalog direction. She has worked for both School Specialty and Fun and Function and currently is a contract blogger and product developer as well as home health pediatric and geriatric physical therapist. She is currently the owner of the idea therapist and can be reached at [email protected]
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